Now that April's here
by Mel Robertson
WHEN WE THINK of April we usually think of the expression, "April showers bring May flowers". However, the month has been described in many ways. Blackie's Annual described it as "April rain and sun together; quite the most unusual weather." Other writers have called it a "cruel" month, "grimy April", and as a "green traffic light that leads us to the rest of the year". Still others have written that April has "sweet, small clumsy feet" and that "the pattering of April showers makes the daisies. References are of many kinds and Bartlett's Quotations has over 50.
April has also been a month when several famous events have taken place - Rome was founded, Shakespeare died, the American Revolution began, etc.
April has also been noted for "All Fools Day" on April 1. This is a very ancient custom which is thought to have been associated with the mistreatment of Christ before the Crucifixion.
When I was a child, kids felt that it was important to get in the first "April Fool" joke of the day. This was usually some completely ridiculous statement such as, "There's an elephant in the back yard." Parents were then supposed to rush to the window while the kids yelled, "April Fool!". The rest of the day would be spent trying to pass off similar "jokes" on your friends.
Locally, April has presented some strange "April Fool" jokes. For example, on April 8,1869, the area was rocked with a terrible explosion which was thought to have come from a passing meteorite. During the same week in 1886, there was a bad storm that deposited 18 inches of snow and damaged the Cockshutt bridge. This was most unusual as the Fairfield correspondent to the Burford "Times" wrote that spring ploughing had started and that farmers were rolling their land. Also, during the first week of April, 1886, there was a serious confrontation at a Council meeting in
Harley between two delegations who approved, or disapproved, a bylaw concerning cattle running at large. The pro-bylaw delegation numbered 53, while the anti-bylaw delegation numbered 57. Also on hand was a large crowd who expected a real f-ght. However, this problem was finally settled when the anti-bylaw crowd agreed to an amendment allowing one cow per owner to wander the streets. In Scotland, people rejoiced that the famous post office scandal had been settled in favour of the postmaster and that his accuser had been forced to leave town. On April 1,1910, the "Advance" reported that the first automobiles had begun to use the muddy side roads and that Aaron Rutherford had started to build his new furniture store (now 114 King St.).
Of major importance was the announcement of a sale to liquidate D.R. Hamilton's large livery business. This included 14 horses, one of which was described as "a dandy little gelding suitable for ladies". Equipment included over 25 wagons, buggies, democrats, sleighs, cutters and a 10-passenger bus. Among this group were Stanhope and Surrey carriages that were used at weddings and funerals. This sale would appear to have signaled the end of large livery business in the Bur-ford area.
On April 15, the local Dragoon commander announced the opening of recruiting offices in Harley, Cathcart and Scotland and the "Advance" editor got off a blistering editorial demanding that farmers who owned land on Burford outskirts be forced to sell it for building lots. This was followed by another editorial blast condemning Council for imposing a $15 tax on stores selling tobacco.
Toward the end of April, 1910, speculation about the arrival of Haley's comet began to creep into the news. No one knew what to expect and, since there were no radio weather reports, people began to fear earthquakes and hurricanes. C.F. Saunders, the Burford insurance agent, urged people to load up with insurance "as there will be wind and storms". Young people took a more casual attitude and began to plan "Comet parties" where groups would
congregate at some open place near the creek, lie on blankets and watch the celestial visitor speed by.
In April, 1915, more peaceful things dominated the news with the main event being the presentation of the cantata "From the Manger to the Cross" at Burford Methodist Church. This production, which was conducted by A.W. Eddy, included a choir of 50 and an orchestra. Soloists were Mrs. A. Mclnally, Mr. H. Woolley, Mr. Alan Kneale and Mr. Roy Frid. The church was packed but only $52.50 was taken in due to so many free tickets being handed out.
Jumping ahead to April, 1934, the "Advance" was full of young people's activities with reports from groups in all area churches. In Burford, the A.Y.P.A. was associated with a league that included Princeton, Paris and Brantford whose purpose was to present debates and one-act plays. These events drew large crowds from all churches and old minute books reveal that the meetings always ended with "dancing". This attracted young people from churches where dancing was banned to attend young people's meetings. Consequently, it may be interesting to note an entry in the 1934 minutes of Burford A.Y.P.A. in which a prominent young man from Burford United Church offered to lend his radio to the Anglican A.Y.P.A. so that the dance music could be improved.
Before electronic and mechanical genius blurred the changing of the seasons, the month of April was clearly a month of preparation for change that had both glad and sad parts for children. It was glad for the lengthening of daylight and the warming of weather made it possible for kids to stay out later and even walk on the withered grass. For boys, the drying of the fields .made expeditions to the creek possible and trips were organized to see how the familiar things of fall had survived the winter. Familiar fishing holes were examined, their inhabitants were noted and plans were made for their capture. In most places, various games of marbles appeared and the thump of balls bouncing off walls became commonplace. Coaster wagons roared along the sidewalks and kids with tricycles or bicycles oiled them up for the coming races. Dogs who had spent the winter curled up behind stoves appeared with wagging tails, ready to take part in any game that was played. Girls skipped ropes either singly or in groups or ran up and down streets trying to disrupt games of marbles that were being played on the sidewalks. Adults got into the act by organizing teams to clean up and rake the mile-long path on the west side of Maple Avenue North which was such a popular evening "stroll" for adults before everyone had an automobile. Other adults went to the west end of King Street to examine and repair, if necessary, the wooden "high sidewalk" that bridged the drain and the hollow west of it. This was a very important act of preparation for the "high sidewalk" was a favourite "courting place" for young couples and no one wanted to see anyone (in their ardour) break through the boards or the railing and finish their embrace among the lilacs. Back at the corner of King and Maple, large numbers of ball players played "catch" with such vigour that sports enthusiasts predicted a "world series" of • some sort for the village.
The glad part of April for kids was the fact that usually "Easter Holidays" took place and relieved us of the "boot camp" horror of Burford Public School. Yes, we called it "Easter Holidays" and not "Spring Break", for it was a time before "political correctness" had outlawed the use of such Christian phrases as "Happy Easter", "Merry Christmas", etc. Kids knew what these phrases meant and were not ashamed to use them.
The sad part of April that children in former years experienced was during the Easter weekend when "Good Friday" was not a happy time. This was due to the fact that, in those days, Sunday School and Church played a greater part in a child's life than they do now and, in many homes, the reading of "Hurlburt's Stories From The Bible" was an addition to the two Sunday School sessions and one church service a child attended on Sunday. Thus, children were very familiar with the life of Jesus and regarded Him as a sort of friendly adult they would want as a friend. Thus we could not understand why anyone would want to harm such a fine person. Consequently, we could not understand the arrest in the garden, the trial and the crucifixion. All of this seemed so unnecessarily cruel and, since we lacked the theological knowledge to understand the Resurrection, Easter weekend was apt to be a time of intellectual confusion tinged with unhappiness.
Many parents were aware of this and tried to alleviate it with the Easter icons of Easter bunnies, Easter eggs, etc. Real and imaginary "aunts" would make Easter cards and slip them under the front door. Some organizations even planned Easter egg hunts in church basements. A.Y.P.A.s, B.Y.P.U.s, Epworth Leagues and other church-oriented groups planned "Sunrise Services" at various places along the creek These were very solemn and impressive services which took place just as the sun rose and were symbolic, of the Resurrection. The symbolism of these services was not lost and I have heard many older people recall them with great satisfaction.
A more prosaic part of earlier Aprils was the unspoken competition among home owners to be the first to have their property raked up and clear of winter trash. This was not as simple as it is today for there was no garbage collection and the only "dump" was an old gravel pit on Maple Avenue South. This was a very deep hole that was dominated by an old tin-covered hut on the street whose only inhabitant was a rather strange old lady who examined every bit of trash brought to the dump and lived on cans of peas and corn that the local canning factory discarded. Taking trash to this dump could be a real adventure for people taking their trash in wheelbarrows or hand carts, but also the grim presence of the dump "mistress". Eventually, the old lady died and, in a night of great hilarity attended by most of the people of Burford, the house and the dump were burned. The old gravel pit was eventually filled, but a considerable depression remains.
People who did not have the means, or the fortitude, to patronize the local "dump" burned their trash at home and the April air was heavy with smoke most days of the week. However, any burning of trash on Sunday was considered to be sacrilegious and anyone who dared to light such a fire on "the Sabbath" would be visited almost immediately by indignant men ordering them to put it out.
Another April activity of earlier times before anti-freeze and snowploughing of roads began was getting cars "off the jacks" and readying them for summer driving. This could be quite an ordeal that would take up the better part of a day and could be the subject of pleasant or derisive poolroom conversation depending on whose car was involved. This may sound silly in 1997 when almost everyone has at least one car but, in earlier tunes, the possession of a Brisco or a Grey-Doit touring car could be an aid to social advancement.
Thus did April with its increasing warmth and broadening light give us the "green light" that led to summer. If people will take their eyes off the computer screens for one moment, they will see that the environmental changes that I have noted for past years still continue to take place.
Maybe the way to end this article about April is to complete Blackie's little verse about it -
April rain and sun together Quite the most uncertain weather But they say that sun and showers Bring the pretty summer flowers.